Exquisite & Ferns

Hello,

This week’s word is exquisite. I was hiking on Sunday and admiring the new season’s ferns. I love the way they unfurl from the tightest little buds. A stem relaxes into existence and then each leaflet unrolls out from the stem itself. During high summer they’re easy to ignore, providing a green carpet under trees and along stone walls but on a bright spring day their exquisite growth dance is beauty in miniature.

The adjective exquisite entered the English language in the early 1400s from a Latin source and it meant “carefully selected” as it was a direct borrowing of the Latin word exquisitus which meant “careful choice” from the verb exquirere. Exquirere is compounded from ex for out (think exit, for example) and quarere meaning “to seek” (think query, for example).

It’s unclear how but exquisite’s meaning in English mutated with use. By the late 1500s it had changed to mean “something of delightful excellence”. By the 1700s it had refined to mean “something of delightful excellence produced by art rather than nature”. By the early 1800s it had a noun form which was used as another term for a dandy or foppish character.

Hence I shouldn’t describe the delicate tendrils of the new ferns as exquisite. They require no artist to tend them, but I still think they out-shine any sculpture.

Until next time, enjoy the small details in life. Happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

 

2 thoughts on “Exquisite & Ferns

  1. Cleo

    Towards your comment stating that you shouldn’t use “exquisite” to describe a fern (As it is nature, not man made art), I must say I disagree. I suppose I cannot say that I know the rules on using words according to the definition of a specific time period (more specifically, if you can use a word in the sense of a previous meaning and the usage still be valid) but I for one think it’s perfectly respectable to use the dead sense of a word. I feel that nature could- and should- be described as exquisite. Nature is, the way I see it, just as much a form of artistic expression as any painting or sculpture- man-made or not!

    Reply

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